When John Hunter started teaching more than 30 years ago, he wanted to get his students to think about major world issues.
So he invented the World Peace Game. Students are divided into countries, then Hunter gives them a series of global crises — natural disasters, political conflicts — that they solve by collaborating with each other.
Hunter’s classes are remarkably successful at resolving the crises peacefully, a fact made all the more remarkable because his students are in 4th grade.
Hunter recently sat down for StoryCorps with a two former World Peace Game players: 11-year-old Julianne Swope and 20-year-old Irene Newman.
Click here for the transcript.
And, I just look at the board and, uh, I say to myself, "Oh my gosh, I need to fix this."
And, you, Mr. Hunter, you are always saying, "There's only one thing I'll say when you make these decisions: know the consequences."
And I think that's actually pretty fair and that should apply in real life, too.
What do you hope we learn from the World Peace Game?
John Hunter (JH): I think how to make people not suffer so much.
JH: I think I now hope the game also helps people be more compassionate and kinder.
JS: That's what I've learned. That no matter where you're from, your background, you can still connect with someone else that you've never even met before.
Irene Newman (IN): I'm Irene Newman. I played the World Peace Game 10 years ago, and now I'm studying Peace War and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Third grade I thought I was going to be president of the United States.
JH: I remember you, too. I remember the pigtails, the Brownie uniform, the glasses. You were an intellectual, a third grade intellectual.
IN: I had decided that we were going to win the Peace Game and the way that was going to work was that I was going to take over everything. And I started on that path and quickly ran into a lot of problems.
I really began to understand as we were playing the game, we found peace more through cooperation with one another.
And, um, I actually found the other day … on my 13th birthday you sent me these two pages of advice, but I just wanted to give it to you and see if there were any particular points of advice, um, that you had anything to say about.
JH: Oh you caught me, Irene, 'cause I always claim to never give advice. Number 22: 'Most problems are actually pretty simple to solve. We superimpose so much on them that they become so complex.' What, you like that one? What does that…
IN: I do like that one.
JH: What does that mean for you?
IN: Well actually as we have been talking about the World Peace Game it does make you think that if a bunch of 3rd and 4th graders can look at problems and find a solution that sometimes world problems are more simple than we think.
JH: If we just let 4th graders and 3rd graders handle things.
IN: Our world could be in a different situation than it is now.
JH: Aha … Sometimes I wonder. I'm almost afraid adults are playing the real world peace game and we're not doing so well at it.
But 3rd graders and 4th graders routinely fix everything and make everything work okay.
JH: If just one of them gets through, 10 years, 15 years later, they may save us all. And so I'm kind of hoping that you may be in a position do that someday.
IN: We'll see.
JH: [Laughs] We will. And I'll be watching, too.